James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 105.
Brown led a party containing four of his sons and two other men on a nighttime raid along Pottawatomie Creek. They seized five proslavery settlers from their cabins and murdered them by splitting their skulls with broadswords. This butchery launched full-scale guerilla war in Kansas. Although shocked antislavery people in the East denied - or chose not to believe- the truth about these killings, most Kansans knew who had done them. For the next four months, hit-and-run attacks by both sides raged in Kansas and were exaggerated by the national press into full-scale battles. Several newspapers had a standing headline for news from Kansas: "Progress of the Civil War." John Brown participated in these skirmishes, and one of his sons was killed. About two hundred other men died in the Kansas fighting during 1856. In September, President Pierce finally replaced the ineffective Gov. Shannon with John Geary, a tough but fair-minded Pennsylvanian who had won his spurs as a captain in the Mexican War and as San Francisco's first mayor. Combining persuasion with a skillfull deployment of federal troops, Geary imposed a truce on the two sides and brought an uneasy peace to Kansas in the fall of 1856. By the time the larger question of which Kansas was a part - slavery in the territories- was the focus of the presidential election.